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Iraq: The Next Adventure Travel Destination?

While it's not safe for tourism just yet, travel companies are already eyeing the opportunities for going to Baghdad and beyond.

April 23, 2003 -- With peace, hopefully, will come plenty. As the war in Iraq winds down, both British Airways and Gulf Air have announced that they'll resume scheduled, commercial flights to Iraq as soon as they can, hopefully opening up Iraq as the latest adventure tourism destination.

"I've already had people calling me: travel writers wanting to go because it's exotic, the war's going to end and they're going to write about it... a lot of people that have been everywhere, that want to go somewhere exotic and want to see what's left of Baghdad," says British Airways spokesman John Lampl. "There are potential investors, business travelers -- there's a lot of interest."

British Airways plans to run a Boeing 767 flight thrice-weekly to Baghdad as soon as the British government gives its okay, Lampl says. Gulf Air flights will start even sooner, as soon as the "present authorities" in Iraq clear flights to come in, according to an April 21 report in Bahrain's Gulf Daily News. Royal Jordanian, which has previously run flights from Amman to Baghdad, hasn't announced any plans to restart flights, a spokeswoman says.

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But Wait...

But for Iraq to develop a tourism industry, the country has to get past a few hurdles first. For instance: who's going to issue visas?

"There's no government there. This is one of the things that will have to be worked out as a new Iraqi government is formed," says Stuart Patt, spokesman for the consular affairs bureau of the US State Department.

For now, US passports aren't valid in Iraq because of "extreme danger," according to Patt, but he says the State Department will look at lifting the restrictions once the country is "safe and secure."

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Phil Haines of LIVE Travel, (www.live-travel.com) one of two British tour operators who ran trips to Baghdad as late as last year, is also being cautious. "We will restart the tours when we feel the infrastructure is repaired and it is safe. Many of the hotels we use have been emptied of plumbing and electrical fixtures. With so many different interests involved, I sense it will take some time for political and civil situations to settle. Furthermore, without a government it is difficult to arrange visas," he says. Haines welcomes US travelers on his tours.

(The other tour operator, Geoff Hahn of Hinterland Travel, didn't return our phone call and has no public e-mail address.)

Baghdad Caf├ęs (And Other Attractions)

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Haines' 2002 Baghdad itinerary gives an idea of what a tour to Iraq would be like. The ancient city of Babylon, an 8th-century palace, Islamic shrines, Sumerian ziggurats and the legendary birthplace of Abraham, father of three major world religions, all figure prominently.

"The sites are as old as it gets. They're invaluable places to visit for people who are into archaeology and the history of mankind," Haines says. "You'd be seeing these quite spectacular sites picturing our early civilization and there'd be no other tourists there, which is quite something."

The trip's day in Baghdad will probably have to change a bit, though, as last year's tour featured the now-looted Iraqi National Museum and some monuments that may or may not be there when the next journey sets off.

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US travel agents will also start selling tickets to Iraq when things settle down, says Jay Nagi of Travel Abroad, Inc., a New York travel agency that currently sells tickets to Jordan, Syria, Iran and the Gulf region.

"We'll be interested in selling anywhere where we make money, so obviously it will be another added destination to the Middle East," he says.

Travelers interested in booking a tour to Iraq -- whenever it's leaving -- should e-mail Haines at phil.haines@live-travel.com.


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